NFL Draft hidden gems: Abanikanda, Dell, Vaughn
Patrick Daugherty, Connor Rogers and Kyle Dvorchak discuss their top hidden gems from rounds two and three of the 2023 NFL Draft including New York Jets RB Israel Abanikanda, Dallas Cowboys RB Deuce Vaughn and others.
PATRICK DAUGHERTY: Guys, we've already had a lot of time to digest day one at this point, and really, we've had the whole offseason to digest day one. Most of the guys that get talked about over and over and over again. But where Super Bowls end up being one, where fantasy trophies end up being one, are days two and three kind of like finding the values there, predicting who might be early career breakouts? A lot of really intriguing guys. Connor, Kyle, and I usually just focus on skill players, but there was actually a non-skill player you want to slide in here for us fantasy heads, who just, we don't know anything about defense.
CONNOR ROGERS: Absolutely. Hey, guys, I still get IDP requests every now and then when I write an article with that one. So we'll start with Nick Herbig going to the Steelers in the fourth round. Ironically, his brother was already on the Steelers, so kind of some funny reuniting of the family members here. With Herbig, 20 sacks over the last two seasons, really good first step of the line of scrimmage. He's a lighter pass rusher, but he dominated in the Big Ten, and I think this is a great fit for him to kind of be that situational DPR for Pittsburgh.
And then you move over a little further ahead, go all the way to the sixth round, the Bengals getting Andrei Iosivas from Princeton. A great athlete, he was on Princeton's track team. Looked really, really good at the Senior Bowl. Developmental prospect, but somebody that I think can win vertically over time, especially with the play speed he has, the ability to go up and get the ball. A bigger target, but he's got burners as well. And we know wide receivers can thrive in that offense.
But the guy that stands out to me the most from day three of the draft has to be Pittsburgh's running back Israel Abanikanda that went to the Jets in round five. He was my RB five in this draft. At his pro day, he timed as low as 4.26, 41-inch vertical. And the production is there, 20 touchdowns. I mean, he had, I think, over 100 yards in 9 of his 11 games, outside zone running back.
That's what the Jets want to be with Nathaniel Hackett. So when you look at-- sure, it's a little bit crowded of a running back room, but the fact that they took him, especially with Breece Hall coming back from the injury a little bit, Abanikanda, I think this is a great landing spot for him to be really productive, maybe early on.
KYLE DVORCHAK: Yeah, Izzy has like freakish levels of speed for his size. He's not like-- in later videos I may talk about someone who also has freakish speed-- but he's not like these guys who oh, well, yeah, of course, it's easy to run a 4.3 when you're 185 pounds. He's scary fast for his size, and like, that's the type of guy you can give the ball to on all three downs.
But I think it's a little interesting because they already have Breece Hall. And you said he's coming back from the knee injury. I know you're a Jets guy. Like, is there anything more going on there? Anything we should be worried about? Because I could have envisioned before landing with the Jets, Izzy being a team's featured back down the road.
CONNOR ROGERS: Yeah, I think it's a fine balance here, Kyle. I think number one, while there's optimism around Breece Hall, it would be insane to have 20-touch optimism out of the gate in September. And honestly, foolish by the Jets if they come into a season where they're trying to go really, really far. You just put a workload on Breece right away, coming off that torn ACL? I'd rather ramp him up over time.
And then the other side to it as well away from Breece, Michael Carter was not good last year. Bam Knight had some flashes, but he was a UDFA that they like as a kick returner as well. They'd moved on from Ty Johnson. There is a clear cut role for the second running back in that offense, and now it looks like it's all there for Abanikanda.
PATRICK DAUGHERTY: Connor, you hit on a point there that we've talked about probably too much on this show. And it's that a guy we really, really wanted to be good for the Jets, Michael Carter. This hasn't panned out as expected. It seems like the Jets have kind of lost faith in Michael. I guess not seems like it, at this point. I think it's fair to say with their actions they've lost faith in Michael Carter. Just by the way, every time I hear Nathaniel Hackett on the Jets, it's like a jump scare. Like I forget that he's on the Jets.
CONNOR ROGERS: That's really good.
PATRICK DAUGHERTY: I guess with Connor--
CONNOR ROGERS: The offensive coordinator.
PATRICK DAUGHERTY: Yeah. Connor goes deep. He has a defensive player. He had a Princeton player. Kyle, can you possibly match Connor on his day two and three gems in this draft?
KYLE DVORCHAK: No. He's going long, and I realize, as I'm thinking about who I'm going to talk about, I think it's maybe Freudian, because I'm a shorter guy, that I'm going short. My guys are tiny, and I think they're really good. They're the most like, they're literally the most productive players entering the draft. At receiver, it's Tank Dell, Houston's wide receiver. Over the past two years, just shy of 200 receptions. 200! That's a jump scare number, right? You hear 200, like, oh, he did that over his career. Just two seasons. Like nearly, like, over 2,700 yards, pushing for 30 touchdowns. And he lands-- stays in Houston, in fact, on an offense that really just does not have a lot of receiving talent.
And I'm also slightly impressed. They did the right thing, Houston. They took-- you know, took CJ Stroud. Don't complicate it. Take the guy who throws the football best in the draft and let things work out. And that gives me, even if he's a rookie, a pretty reasonable amount of optimism for the pass catchers there. I think if there's a role for him, which the other receivers are going to allow there to be a role for him, to play in the slot, Dell could, I don't want to say light it up, right. We should temper expectations for this offense. But he could soak up a lot of volume, and he is just a beast after the catch. He is scary with the ball in his hands.
And speaking of short guys who are scary with the ball in their hands, Deuce Vaughn. He, like, I tweeted about him and I called him-- I hope I'm the first one to make this joke-- he's Tony Smoller. He is the guy who can do everything, and he did everything in college. He can catch passes, he can run the football, and terrifyingly, he was like a 300-touch back in college football.
If you need to know about a size, he is like 5' 6" and 180-something pounds. That 5' 6", that's tiny, and he's not going to get the ball that much. But I think, on a team where some of them now, Tony Pollard is in position to soak up a ton of touches, he can be the Tony Pollard that Tony Pollard was in years past. A dozen fewer touches per game, but they're maximized for his skill set.
So I think these smaller guys who come in with extreme profiles will probably get slept on by, normally, people like me who are just seeing the spreadsheets and saying, oh, he doesn't meet this random weight threshold, this random height threshold. But these guys are just built different.
PATRICK DAUGHERTY: Really, really good stuff on hidden gems with my only addition being the only thing we know about hidden gems in the draft and especially in fantasy is that they will not stay hidden for long. We'll be talking about these guys all spring and summer.
KYLE DVORCHAK: Yeah.